tv 2020 ABC January 13, 2018 10:00pm-11:00pm PST
♪ >> i don't remember fainting, but i certainly remember screaming. >> you were screaming so loud. >> oh, my god. oh, my god. >> i thought he was dead. >> reporter: what was the doctor telling you? tell me what you saw. >> they didn't want to show it to me. >> reporter: they didn't wanna show you your own baby? >> what happened, what's happening? >> we decided like he's going to be beautiful. >> and then we got up out of the bed, and we went down to the nicu and we held nathaniel for the first time. we held our son. and it was awesome. ♪ you are beautiful >> my name is nathaniel newman and i am 12 years old. i am different. >> he kept asking me, "why is everybody staring at me?" >> reporter: i'm curious when you realized, "hey, my face is different from other people's faces." >> when the first kid called, "monster." >> reporter: a kid called you a monster? >> yeah.
♪ don't you bring me down today ♪ >> here comes superhero nathaniel! >> sometimes when i'm having a good time, i forget what i look like. >> reporter: newman family, i have someone that i want you to meet. >> announcer: tonight, a remarkable television event. the best-selling book, the blockbuster movie, and now on "20/20," elizabeth vargas with the real-life story of amazement and wonder. ♪ don't you bring me down today ♪ >> reporter: it is nearly midnight on a frigid february friday in manhattan. nurses on the labor and delivery ward at st. luke's hospital are urging one of the expectant mothers to keep trying. magda newman with her husband russel has been in labor for hours, the endless waiting nearly as agonizing as the physical pain. what was the doctor telling you
about why the labor was taking so long? >> "well, it's the first delivery, you know. you just gotta push harder." >> they finally come in and say, "look, we gotta get this kid out. he's showing some signs of distress." and then our life changed forever. >> reporter: tell me what you saw. >> it didn't look like a human being. >> reporter: it didn't look like a human -- >> he didn't look like a person. it was that different. ♪ >> reporter: a crushing blow to a dream of parenthood, which itself had just been born three years earlier. when magda and russel newman met during a walk on the beach. >> i was bartending in the hamptons. and i saw her walkin' on the beach. and i asked one of the waitresses who that was. and they're like, "that's the nanny."
22-year-old magda was a classically trained pianist originally from poland. she had taken a summer job in the u.s. as an au pair. 33-year-old russel saw an opportunity and seized it. >> i was a pretty rudderless ship in my early 30s. and she just grounded me right away. my life skyrocketed after i met her. >> reporter: the two married in 2002 and immediately got down to business. family business. so, you got pregnant. were you excited? >> oh, yeah. >> yeah. very excited. >> reporter: everything was healthy? absolutely no blips on the radar screen. >> magda was 24 years old, incredibly healthy. so, they don't do a lot of tests when you're in that group. she was the ultimate low-risk pregnancy. >> reporter: but back in that hospital room, after nearly 17 hours of labor when magda finally delivers, it is not a scene of happiness but of horror.
>> i don't remember fainting but i -- i certainly remember screaming. >> you were screaming so loud. >> oh, my god. oh, my god. what--" >> i thought he was dead. that's what i thought. >> what happened? what's happened? what's happening?" >> i saw just shock on people's faces, big eyes and what's going on here? what happened? and i see they put him in a little back room. there's 20 people running in there, doing something. i don't hear baby crying. no noise -- >> reporter: and nobody's telling you anything? >> -- silence. nobody's -- >> no. >> -- telling me anything. i'm like, "what's going on? is he alive? what's going on? i wanna see the baby." and they didn't wanna show it to me. >> reporter: they didn't wanna -- >> they were scared to show me. >> reporter: -- show you your own baby. >> i think they were scared at first because he had no cheekbones and no -- upper or lower eyelids. just completely disfigured. >> reporter: and even more terrifying, the baby is not breathing. magda is left alone on the delivery table while doctors frantically work to save her baby's life.
>> while that was going on, a doctor called me out of the room to show me a textbook written in, like, the 1960s. it -- i just remember it being an old, black-and-white picture of a teenager with treacher-collins. and i remember thinking, "that's gonna be my kid?" >> reporter: treacher collins is an extremely rare congenital cranial facial disorder. it affects just 1 in 50,000 people. i can't imagine first-time parents. you were so excited to have a baby. in one nanosecond, everything, every single thing changed -- >> oh, it was -- it was -- it was -- it was surreal. >> reporter: they name their child nathaniel and contact the institute of reconstructive plastic surgery at nyu's medical center. a leading hospital working with children who have treacher collins.
they leave a message and within hours receive a fateful phone call back. >> i said, hello, who's this?" she goes, "it's shelley cohen. congratulations." >> that was the first person who said to us, "congratulations --" >> no one had congratulated us yet. it was, like, 10:00 or 11:00 -- >> like, yay, you have a baby. >> and this woman shelley, before i could even tell her, she goes, "hey, mr. newman, you had a baby boy, i heard. that's wonderful." and i remember goin', "are you freakin' nuts? >> reporter: do you remember that conversation? >> i do because i said congratulations before we talked about anything else. >> reporter: you were the first person. >> people were paralyzed. they didn't have an idea of what to do. >> and she said, "lemme just tell you, your son is gonna live a long, healthy, happy, wonderful life." and i believed her. like, it was just this voice on a phone. and i believed her. >> reporter: nathaniel is transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at nyu where
he will spend the first month of his life. the newmans meet nurse pat chibaro, an angel in a white lab coat. what do you remember most about that day that you met the newmans? >> they were absolutely devastated. families will say, "well, when is the surgery? when is the surgery that's going to make this all -- >> reporter: all better. >> -- all go away." >> reporter: right. >> and, unfortunately, it's a journey. it's not a surgery. >> reporter: and for the newmans the journey was just beginning. they say it was something unexpected that happened in the hours after nathaniel was born that sustained them through the early days and then the later months and years ahead. >> we turn on the tv, and it was the grammy awards. the show starts with christina aguilera singing the song "beautiful." ♪ i am beautiful no matter what they say ♪ ♪ no matter what
♪ words can't bring me down ♪ no >> i mean you talk about time and "no matter what people say, no matter what people do, you're beautiful in every single way." ♪ words can't bring me down >> we decided, like, he's going to be beautiful not because of his appearance, because of his personality, 'cause he's going to be a beautiful person. ♪ we are beautiful ♪ in every single way >> i swear she was singing to us that night, i swear, as cheesy as that sounds. and that song just resonated. and we got up outta the bed. and we went down to the nicu. and we held nathaniel for the first time. we held our son. sorry. ♪
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have that. how long did it take each of you to not flinch each time you saw nathaniel? >> it took me a year. >> a year? >> a year. a year. i almost cried every day. >> every single time i looked at him, i could not believe it's my child. i couldn't believe it. >> reporter: nathaniel has a genetic condition called treacher collins syndrome, unlike a typical infant's face he was born without cheekbones, eye sockets or ears but most harrowing of all are his breathing complications. his nasal passageway is nearly solid bone and his airway is so narrow it's like trying to breath through a soda straw. but as different as nathaniel looks on the outside, that is where the differences end.
>> did you tell them, "it's -- his brain is unaffected --" >> that's really important. >> it's really important. >> because when you look at children with craniofacial conditions, you think cognitively, they are not going to be developmentally normal -- >> other than his appearance and how his life functions, breathing, eating, et cetera, he is no different than any other boy. >> reporter: but because of those malformations in his face in his first year of life he has more than ten surgeries. >> we've never done cosmetic surgery on nathaniel. everything we've done his whole life has had some benefit to life function. >> reporter: when nathaniel is one month old an emergency tracheotomy is performed, a breathing tube inserted in his throat. a procedure as life altering as it is life saving. >> once you become dependent on a trach -- >> your life will -- >> your your life changes. and then, he's gonna be prone to
infection, which ended up proving to be true. where a normal parent, you know, bath time is this cute, wonderful experience. for us, you're worrying about, "what if water gets in there." >> reporter: but they remain committed to that pledge they made to nathaniel on the first night of his life, to raise him as a, quote, normal boy and take him out into the world. >> i live in new york city. we're walking with the stroller. and everybody was, "oh, you have a baby." and they go, "let me see the baby." and they're like, "god bless you." >> that was the worst. >> that was the worst. >> reporter: by the time nathaniel turns two, russel and magda are settling into this version of parenthood, yet they still long for the chance to experience it without all the heartache. >> i wanted to have a normal child. i wanted to see how -- >> be able to nurse -- >> yes. definitely for sure. but we were scared to just do it on our own. >> we did every test known to man and they basically said we're 99% sure your second child
will not be affected with treacher collins. >> reporter: but there is no way to sure until delivery day arrives. >> this delivery was so quick, i walk into the hospital 20 minutes later jacob was born. >> jacob literally came out looking like a porcelain doll. he was just gorgeous, beautiful. >> reporter: the simple joys of motherhood, so easily taken for granted were for magda extraordinary. >> it was just so easy. this is so easy. you just have the baby and you just hold it and try to breast-feed it. >> reporter: throughout the years nathaniel and jacob shared all the moments and memories that brothers do, but for nathaniel, things were always different. >> how old was nathaniel when he first noticed, looking in a mirror, "i don't look like
everybody else." >> definitely around age four or five, he could clearly vocalize, "i don't like the staring. i don't like the name calling." at that age we're goin' to birthday parties and other kids see him and scream and leave. he knows it was about him. >> reporter: i traveled to reno, nevada, where the family now lives, after russ got a new job. it is finally time to meet nathaniel. hello. >> nice to see you again. >> nice to see you. >> this is nathaniel. nathaniel is now 11 years old and has had 53 surgeries. >> this is sam. >> nice to meet you. >> reporter: i bring my son sam along, who, like so many kids, has never met anyone like nathaniel. we've come to do some of nathaniel's favorite things -- >> you're supposed to beat it. >> reporter: video games. going to the trampoline park. >> dodgeball! >> how do you explain how you
look different? >> i just explain that i have treacher collins, and i know everyone looks different, except i look a lot more different than everyone else. >> does that bother you? >> no. i kinda like it. it just seems fun 'cause i stand out. >> i'm curious when you realized, "hey, my face is different from other people's faces." >> when the first kid called, "monster." >> a kid called you a monster? >> yeah -- >> that must have hurt your feelings? >> yeah, and then i realized that they don't do it to anybody else, so i was different. >> how did that make you feel? >> i was insulted. >> yeah, i'll bet. were you mad? >> yeah, i guess a little. sometimes -- >> why do you think kids do that? why do you think they say mean things to kids who look different? >> because they're -- they don't really think about what they're saying, and their parents don't really do anything about it. >> reporter: and over the years nathaniel's differences have affected his little brother jacob too, he can sometimes find
himself acting more like a big brother. >> your parents were telling me how when you were so little and kids would be mean to nathaniel and you'd get up there with your little fist and go, "hey, leave my brother alone." >> i still do that. >> you still do that. >> but i get more into it. >> do you think of yourself as your brother's protector? >> i think he can protect himself pretty good, but sometimes there are just big high school kids that i have to talk to by myself -- >> how old are you, jacob? >> almost 9. >> you're almost 9. >> here comes superhero nathaniel! >> sometimes i forget i have treacher collins. >> you do? >> yeah, sometimes if i'm having a good time, i forget what i look like. >> so when we were zip-lining, did you forget you had treacher collins? >> yeah, i was just having a lot of fun. >> reporter: coming up for nathaniel middle school. how do you fit in when you are born to stand out?
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it's like for nathaniel newman. in the fall of 2015 nathaniel walked into bd billinghurst middle school in reno, nevada, for his first day of sixth grade, which for nathaniel meant another brutal round of introductions. new school, new classmates. to ease the transition, the newmans had a plan. >> russel came up with the great idea. they sat down together and we write a letter. >> my name is nathaniel newman and i am 12 years old. i am different. >> i don't want you to be surprised when we meet. i have a trach to breathe and a special hearing aid to hear. i have three dogs. i like pokemon a lot, as well as "star wars." >> i really just want you to treat me like everyone else. >> and we include a picture to try and avoid some of the first day shock and awe, if you will.
>> reporter: after a couple of months we came to visit nathaniel at school. ms. culbertson and ms. urban are his sixth grade teachers. >> how important were those letters that nathaniel's family sent out? >> the students knowing what to expect i think is very helpful, rather than just walking into school and then having that reaction, which most parents have taught their kids not to have that kinda reaction. but it's hard. they're kids. >> were any of guys at all nervous to meet nathaniel the first time? >> yeah. >> yeah, it's okay to admit that. tell me why you were nervous. >> i was a little nervous because i didn't wanna say anything to hurt his feelings. >> i didn't know what the experience would be like. >> he may look different on the outside. but on the inside, he's perfectly normal just like everyone else. >> reporter: but the single most powerful change in how children treat nathaniel isn't because of that letter but because of a little blue book called "wonder." >> we incorporate the book "wonder" into the welcome letters. like, hey, you might have read "wonder" now. >> you might have read the book "wonder."
if you have then you already know a little bit about me. >> reporter: "wonder" tells the story of 10 year-old auggie pullman born with a facial difference a lot like treacher collins. >> do you do all your writing in the office? rj palacio wrote the book after a chance encounter with a little girl who looked a lot like nathaniel. >> i was in front of an ice cream store here in my neighborhood with my two sons. and i realized that there was a little girl sitting directly next to me. she had a very severe cranial facial difference. and i kind of panicked, 'cause my little boy started to cry hysterically and in my haste to protect her from his reaction, i kinda like turned the stroller around, i started pushing it away really fast. it was terrible. and i -- i was so mad at myself for the way that i handled it. for the rest of the day, i just kept thinking about all the things i wished i'd said and done. >> reporter: palacio started writing with the hope that this story could inspire parents and children alike. >> i just thought, "okay, i'm going to write a book and it's
going to be about what it must be like to face a world every day that doesn't know how to face you back." >> reporter: when the book came out in 2012 nurse pat chibaro was one of the first to read it. she immediately reached out to the newmans. >> i literally read it in three hours, cried the whole time. and i remember calling back pat and going, "pat, did she spy on us? like, this is freaky." and then we got to meet raquel face to face for lunch one day. and when she saw nathaniel, you could just see this look in her face. >> and i remember thinking, "oh, my goodness, this is auggie pullman come to life." >> reporter: the similarities between the book and nathaniel's life are almost unbelievable. "wonder" begins with auggie starting at a new school just like nathaniel, enduring dozens of surgeries like nathaniel. and even more astonishing, if you flip to page 118 you'll even find the lyrics from that song that means so much to the newmans. a song they still play every
year on nathaniel's birthday. >> it's so remarkable that you wrote this entire novel and then you meet this family and it's the family in your novel. >> i know. >> i mean -- >> it was amazing. >> reporter: today "wonder" is more than a book, it's a phenomenon selling more than five million copies and translated into 45 languages. it's even become required reading in hundreds of schools across the country. >> it's become part of a campaign, in essence, to be kind. >> i used this quote, "if you have the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. such a simple thing. >> that book is singlehandedly making life easier for children with facial differences. it's just a fact. >> reporter: coming up, will nathaniel ever breathe on his own? doctors propose a risky surgery that could mean life or death. one more major surgery, which is -- >> barbaric. >> reporter: are the newmans
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♪ >> reporter: today is no ordinary day for the newman family. >> all right, this is exciting. we're heading to the reno-tahoe international airport to pick up jono lancaster. >> i'm excited. >> reporter: in the world of craniofacial disorders, jono lancaster is a rock star. >> i have a "welcome to reno" sign for jono. >> hey, there he is. >> hi. >> hey, guys! how you doing? >> hi. >> reporter: jono, a 33 year-old from england is perhaps the best known person on the planet with treacher collins. >> jono lancaster was born with a rare genetic condition. >> i don't know how many people has called me names or laughed at me. >> reporter: he spends much of
his time traveling the world and meeting families like the newmans. >> you're the first adult with treacher collins he's ever hung out with. >> wow. >> right? all of a sudden you're quiet, you didn't shut up all morning, now you're afraid to talk? >> reporter: nathaniel may be a little star-struck, but it's magda and rus who recognize the magnitude of this moment. what it means to talk to someone who knows the uncertain path they are on. >> guys, get as close as you can. that'll work. >> that's a good one. >> reporter: because he too has walked it. >> aw, that's awesome. >> reporter: life for jono was tough from the start, born to parents who had no idea he would have treacher collins, they gave him up just 36 hours after birth. >> when i was young, there'd be the odd playground game of run away from jono in case you caught treacher collins. they'd pull their eyes down. >> what did you most want to hear from him or ask him? >> i just wanted to know about his teenage mostly.
>> his teenage years? >> yes. >> i know soon the boys will be having girlfriends. i just want nathaniel to be a part of that too. >> girls used to ask me out as a dare or as a joke, or they used to flirt with me and make it really obvious that they were making fun of me. and i got used to name-calling and bullying and stuff like that. and i kinda got used to that. but the girls. >> it bothered you. >> it really upset me. the fact that nobody found me sexually attractive really hurt. >> reporter: although it took time, life began to transform for jono around the time he began transforming himself. in his twenties he developed a passion for fitness, looking back he says he was trying to shift the focus from his face to his body, it eventually led to a job as a personal trainer and it was at the gym where he unexpectedly met laura richardson. the two struck up a friendship and one day jono asked her out on a date. >> when the two of you are out
on a date, do people stare? >> yeah. and i get really quite, like, defensive. >> i'd be like, "what are you lookin' at?" >> you'd call them out. >> yeah, i would because it -- it would, like, bubble up inside me. and i -- it made me angry, but i do not notice it at all now. >> there's a lot of kids out there that are really, really good at hiding their feelings. >> we're gonna skype laura in london to say hi to jono's girlfriend. >> reporter: in reno, the newmans get a chance to meet laura as well, over skype. >> look how gorgeous she is. seriously. >> hi, laura. >> hi. >> i just have to tell you, you loving jono the way you do, makes me and magda so happy about nathaniel's future. >> thank you. >> have you ever felt like people stared at you a lot when you were a kid? >> yeah, um, i did have people staring at me.
and when i was younger, i always thought they were staring at me in a bad way. um. but as i've got older, i've learned that loads of people stare at me because, you know, they like my hair, or they like my clothes. you know? they're not staring at me in a bad way. sometimes they stare at you in a good way. >> oh, korean barbeque is ready. >> how many surgeries have you had when you were a kid? >> i think i must have had maybe like 15. >> that must've been rough. >> reporter: when the topic of surgery comes up around the dinner table, there is one major difference that is clear, jono has never needed a trach, the life-altering breathing tube in nathaniel's throat that he's lived with since he was a month old. now doctors may finally have a solution that could give nathaniel a trach-free life. but it's a gamble. >> one more major surgery, which is --
>> barbaric. >> barbaric? >> barbaric. >> why? >> it's so extreme. >> good day ahead, dude. >> reporter: the newmans have been meeting with doctors at the seattle children's hospital, trying to decide if they are ready for a surgery so radical it's only been preformed on one other child with treacher collins. >> it is, i would have to say, a terrible surgery for a child to go through. >> reporter: dr. richard hopper is the chief surgeon at the craniofacial center. he knows how debilitating nathaniel's trach tube can be. >> we gotta make sure you're clean. >> it's keeping him alive. but for him to have the quality of life that we all take for granted, the tracheostomy needs to be gone. >> reporter: in order for that to happen dr. hopper will have to literally rearrange the bones in nathaniel's face opening up his airway. >> what we need to be able to do is separate his entire face off of the skull and swing his face forward into the correct position. >> reporter: at his consultations no detail is spared from nathaniel. >> he listened to the whole
thing, very attentive, and finally he turned to the doctor and he said, "i have a question." >> do they change their face a lot? >> it's not giving you a new face, but it puts your face into a different position. >> will i still look like this? >> yes. >> he goes, "i want my trach out. but you're not changing the way i look. i love my face." >> that's extraordinary. >> i really learned the meaning of the phrase, no pain, no gain. so i realized the meaning of that. >> that's right, you're going to have a little bit of pain. >> but then i'm going to gain. >> this way. >> reporter: after months of preparation the day of the surgery is finally here. >> yeah. any questions for me today? >> no. >> i know we've talked about this surgery a lot. it's going to seem like a split second to you. >> one second i'm on the bed, and the next i'm sitting in a hospital room. >> yeah. >> ready? >> yeah. >> this is the drill. >> reporter: as he has done nearly 60 times before, a family tradition of sorts, russ carries his son into surgery.
>> wanna kiss her one more time? >> yeah. >> i love you. >> see you soon. >> reporter: coming up -- the newmans face the most harrowing 24 hours of their lives. >> so my heart is beating faster and faster. >> i'm going to go to the house phone. hi, it's russel newman, nathaniel newman's father? >> his whole face is broken in pieces. >> reporter: and a devastating development no one saw coming. >> it's so -- i'm so tired. i want it to be over. >> reporter: stay with us. new $1 $2 $3 dollar menu. yeah, i'll have the "we haven't been to the grocery store in weeks meal", please. (yawning) (sniff) (clatter, thud) you said 2 sausage mcmuffin with egg and 2 small iced caramel macchiatos for just $10. exactly. 'sup, fellas. hey, man. 'sup. oh, wait... build whatever meal you want with favorites on mcdonald's new $1 $2 $3 dollar menu. ( ♪ ) with favorites on mcdonald's new $1 $2 $3 dollar menu. touch is how we communicate with those we love,
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>> don't look at me. >> announcer: "wonder boy" continues with elizabeth vargas reporting. >> reporter: after a lifetime of surgeries today 12-year-old nathaniel newman is heading back into the operating room. this time it's different. for the next 12 hours surgeons will work to rearrange the bones in nathaniel's face. anchoring them in place with a metal halo attached to his head
for the next three months, until those bones can finally settle into their new position. at that point doctors will finally remove nathaniel's trach and he'll be able to do things he's never done before. as dr. hopper heads into the operating room, magda and rus are left to wait and worry. >> it never gets easier. putting your son on a metal table, surrounded by things that are gonna, you know, cut him open. it's agonizing. you know, it's just -- >> we're just sit and wait, you know. >> we just sit. >> you just sit. what else can you do? >> reporter: as the hours pass the tension mounts. >> so my heart is beating faster and faster. russel, what time is it? >> it's 6:40 already? so we're on ten plus hours now. >> i'm going to go to the house phone.
hi, alison, it's russel newman, nathaniel newman's father, we just got a page? >> okay. you got it. yup. thanks, genevieve. so he's finishing up. >> everything went fantastic. yeah. no problems at all. >> how are you smiling? >> uh, i don't know, it's a lot of energy. he did great. everything went perfectly smooth. no problems whatsoever. it's going to be a shock, though, when you see him. because he's going to have metal everywhere. he's going to be very swollen. much more swollen than when you've seen him from previous surgeries. >> dr. hopper, really. we owe you so much. >> it's a pleasure to work with you. >> you've just given us such a ray of hope. >> reporter: magda and rus are able to briefly see nathaniel. >> we're keeping him comfortable with pain meds. he just gave us a thumbs up right now. >> what?! he really gave you a thumbs up!? can i hug you? >> oh, sure. >> oh, my god, he really did. >> his whole face is broken in pieces, right now. he knows that he will be asleep for two days. he said, 'mom, please do not leave my side. i want to know that you're
there. >> reporter: when nathaniel wakes up his jaw is wired shut to that metal halo. the family leaves the hospital but remains in seattle so doctors can monitor nathaniel's progress. but after just a few days there is crushing medical news. this time not for nathaniel. it is for magda who has come down with a nagging cough. >> i started coughing and thinking i probably have some type of walking pneumonia. so i just went to emergency room. >> reporter: the doctors quickly order a routine c.a.t. scan and then. >> the doctor says, "well, it's cancer." i'm like, "that's -- that can't be possible." >> reporter: but it is. magda is diagnosed with an aggressive form of non-hodgkin's lymphoma. >> i was angry. i couldn't believe it.
i just -- it was just wrong timing. >> reporter: a caretaker turned patient herself, she begins a series of grueling chemotherapy treatments, eventually losing her hair but never her sense of purpose. >> i had two choices. to sit and mope and think, "oh, my god, poor me, or just, get help, get healthy and take care of nathaniel." >> party all the time, right in the hospital, right now. down, down, up, up. >> reporter: nothing it seems can stop magda. >> people would look at everything that you, as a family, have been through and would say why is so much being asked of this one family? >> i've asked myself that question. i've asked god that question. and you know what, you can focus on the negative and be negative. is it going to change? no. you have a choice to look at the positive.
>> reporter: it is an outlook magda has passed on to nathaniel who while in that metal halo was unable to speak or eat but remarkably is able to dance. ♪ >> he loves to dance. >> now we can check in. >> reporter: after three months nathaniel is back at the hospital, doctors are ready to remove that halo. >> i'll see you in there, okay, buddy? okay. >> it's going to be all good, nathaniel, okay? i'll see you when you wake up. >> we'll do this. >> watch your head, duck. >> give me a kiss. >> reporter: with nathaniel in surgery magda heads home to rest and the crushing emotional weight of all that they have been through suddenly hits rus. >> it's been a really long four months. it's been a really long 12 years. it's so -- i'm so tired. i want it to be over.
>> reporter: when nathaniel comes out of surgery he is halo-free, but there will be five more months of evaluations and tests before doctors are ready to do something the newmans have waited a lifetime to do, remove nathaniel's trach. >> all right, you ready? this is a big day in your life. this is a big day in your life. that's it, dude. >> okay so this is how you get rid of a trach after 13 years. here it goes. >> reporter: finally for the first time ever breathing on his own and nathaniel is able to do something most 12-year-olds wouldn't think twice about, jump in the pool and go for a swim. >> you did it. >> oh, my gosh, i love it. >> reporter: and the newmans have another reason to celebrate, after five months of chemotherapy doctors tell magda her cancer is gone. it is a year filled with milestones.
>> happy birthday, natony. finally you are teenager and your trache is out. >> one, two, three. ♪ happy birthday to you >> nathaniel celebrated his 13th birth day. on his birthday, rus, you wrote him an amazing message. >> you, my little wonder boy, you show me every day that my strength pales in comparison to what you possess in that enormous heart of yours. because of you, i, we and our family have the strength to endure all life throws at us. i have a 13-year-old boy that's tackled more challenges than most 100-year-old men would ever dream of. >> what was it like to read that letter from your dad? >> i was happy. >> yeah? did you know that he thinks that you're that strong? >> yeah. >> yeah? do you think he's right? >> yeah. i don't know, actually. >> you don't know, actually? >> yeah. >> i think he's right. i think he's, like-- >> you think he's right. >> 100% right.
♪ you are beautiful >> reporter: rus posted his letter on facebook and attached that song you might call the newman family anthem. >> you're still playing, "beautiful"? >> i play it -- >> yeah. >> i play it all the time. it inspires the heck outta me. >> hello, newman family. >> reporter: when we come back an emotional surprise for the newman family you won't want to miss. >> i have somebody i want you to meet. discover new fructis treats 1 minute hair masks. it's the new way to nourish hair, fast. fructis 1 minute masks incredibly creamy texture melts into hair to intensely nourish and strengthen, in just one minute. 98% naturally derived ingredients.
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>> reporter: after 13 years of heartache, struggle, perseverance and triumph, today the newman family is on its way to a full circle surprise. >> hello, newman family. >> hello. >> reporter: it's been just a month since nathaniel's trach came out. while he continues to recover, we brought the whole family to los angeles. they are here to meet someone who's been a lifeline for them from the very beginning. >> newman family, i have someone i want you to meet. christina aguilera. >> hi, guys! hi! >> oh, my god, can i hug you? >> absolutely. >> that's the girl who sang the song. >> we're in christina aguilera's
house. it's just crazy, right? >> you're welcome. you want to sit down? >> let's go. >> let's go hang out. >> once everyone settles in magda tells christina that it was her song all those years ago that gave her the strength to hold her baby boy for the first time and raise him to know how beautiful he is. >> i realized that evening that i have a beautiful child and it doesn't matter what we see on the outside. >> christina has one more surprise for you. >> what is it? >> she's actually going to sing the song. >> really? >> wow. >> are you ready for this? >> this time not for an audience of millions, but for a family of four for whom this song has meant so much. ♪ i am beautiful no matter what they say words can't bring me down ♪
♪ i am beautiful in every single way 'cause words can't bring me down ♪ ♪ so don't you bring me down today ♪ ♪ no matter what we do no matter what we say with the song inside the tune full of beautiful ♪ ♪ mistakes and everywhere we go the sun will always shine but tomorrow we might awake ♪ ♪ on the other side we are beautiful no matter what they say no matter what they say ♪ >> reporter: the whole family
was back in los angeles for the premiere of the movie "wonder." as they walked the red carpet we were reminder of those words rus wrote in his birthday letter to nathaniel . you've shown me strength i never knew could exist. you even taught me to accept life with a smile. ♪ today stuck on the side of a san francisco cliff. with danger below.